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the gap in-between stars

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The suns and the moons and the galaxies far
Were cast from his bow before they were stars
Oh and the gap in-between them is nothing to us
Our eyes cut the distance as loving eyes must
From me unto you, son, from dust unto dust

Oh my darling

-- Einstein’s idea, Johnny Flynn

*

It’s Friday afternoon, and since Snow has decided that they all need to spend more time as a family, Regina is kneeling in the dirt trying to pitch a tent instead of reading a good book on her back porch.

A mosquito buzzes close to her ear and she slaps it away with a grimace, glaring at the progress she has made with their tent. It is a bright red triangle of nylon that’s been bought (apparently) for the specific purpose of housing both her and Emma this weekend. Apparently Snow and David are regular camp-goers with their very own luxury tent and Henry is willing to give the backpacking hammock a chance. So, they get their own tent.

Regina stands with a brittle wince, her knees cracking. She takes a slow step back and regards her progress.

Well...it’s standing, at least.

She has managed to sink the pegs down deep enough in the sandy dirt to pull the tent upright but it still looks more like a child’s drawing of a tent than something that will withstand the night.

Wiping the sweat from her forehead, Regina sighs and looks around their little campground. Their space is just a large patch of scrubby grass and pine trees, all surrounded by bees. In the distance, she can see a faint blue line of unsteady water which brings in the air the smell of salt.

Near the bear box, David whistles to himself as he stacks tin cans on top of tin cans and bags on top of boxes. In the corner, Snow helps tighten the ropes of Henry’s nighttime hammock, laughing at some little joke of Henry’s. Somewhere close, she can hear Neal rummaging around the space for interesting things like acorns and rocks to hide in his pocket. Nearly everyone is accounted for.

Except Emma.

Of course.

Regina sighs and covers her eyes with a palm, squinting worriedly through the late autumn afternoon. But only a moment later, Emma’s voice booms from right beside her.

“Hey.”

Regina startles. Then she closes her eyes.

 “Emma,” she sighs, and presses a hand to her chest. “How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

“Sorry,” Emma laughs, completely unrepentant. In fact she seems quite pleased with herself – her face is happy and warm under the late-autumn light, seemingly undisturbed by the thought of spending two nights under a frigid mosquito-infested sky with only a cheap, badly-put-together tent to protect them.

Regina sighs. “I don’t think it’s too late to rent a cabin, you know.”

“Actually, I think it might be. A little bit.”

“When did camping become such a popular family bonding trip,” Regina grumbles. “Why couldn’t we be swept away to a luxurious hotel with good food, beds, and hot water?”

“Oh, come on,” Emma wraps an arm around Regina’s shoulders, gives her a hearty, awkward half-hug that squeezes the air out of her ribs. “This is going to be fun! I always wanted to go camping with my family, and this tent looks great, you did a great job setting it up.”

Regina grunts, unconvinced, but let’s herself settle into Emma’s space anyway. If Emma can ignore the tent’s obvious flaws, she might as well too.

“I guess so,” she says grudgingly. ‘But ...doesn’t it seem a little too small? Will we even fit?”

“What are you talking about, of course we will.”

“Emma, this tent looks like it was made for a child.”

“We can fit,” Emma assures, and steps forward to show her, parting the nylon flaps with a swat of her hand. She steps inside the small slick, red-black world of the tent. “See?” she says, lays out on her back and spreads her arms as if to prove the enormous space around her, but either side of her fingertips meets the side of the tent. “We will have plenty of room.”

“You’re delusional.” She smiles.

“I am not. Come in here and see for yourself.”

“Emma,” Regina sighs affectionately. “Honestly, I don’t mind buying another tent from the rangers. It’s just a mile or two off anyway, and there’s still plenty of time.”

“No, Regina. Come on,” Emma groans, and pulls her sap-stained boots inside the tent flaps. She pats the space beside her and looks up at her with a flushed earnestness. “Just try it out. Please? I swear, it’s much bigger than it looks.”

Regina hesitates. But she agrees.

Slowly, she kneels into the tent. The space inside is full of a warm plastic smell and feels surprisingly separate from the world outside. The pine needles crackle quietly beneath Regina as she crawls inside. She somewhat successfully manages to tuck herself into the small space beside Emma without touching her; it is like working with the simplest kind of puzzle and deciding instead to cut them into different pieces rather than clicking them into place.

Her head falls onto the slick, red space right beneath Emma’s arm, her hands folding around her stomach. She must angle her legs in the opposite side of the tent and turn her hip to the side, but, by mere inches, they can lie side-by-side together, not touching.

“See?” Emma whispers. “We fit.”

Regina glances at Emma subtly. Her face is flecked with orange and red light, bright with the joy of her own thoughts. She is so beautiful like this, and with the two of them so close, the space inside the tent feels pleasantly warm and remote, as if they are lying side-by-side in a small canoe, riding the gentle tide back towards home.

Regina closes her eyes, the smell of warm pine needles and plastic lulling her. “Yes,” she says softly. “We do.”

*

When the warmth of the afternoon disappears, and the sky starts to dot with stars, Regina tries to look for a task that will keep her warm. But Snow has snagged the task she would be best suited for -- preparing dinner -- and David is struggling with the fire. And she wouldn’t trade warmth for Emma’s job.

So, in the end, she ends up just watching Emma chop wood. There’s a soft sort of hypnotizing motion to her work, and even from a distance Regina can make out the muscles in her back and arms, can see them bulge with each rhythmic swing of the axe and straighten out again as she wipes away her sweat and tosses the chopped log to the side. Then she moves on to the  next one, which always brings the satisfying sound of splitting wood.

“Damn.” David sighs again.

Regina glances down at the kindling cupped between David’s palms. The fire hisses into a blue-black smoke.

“Just another second,” he promises again, and bends down to blow on the kindling. “I can make this work.”

“Of course, you can,” Snow says heartily from her seat on the small fold out chair beside her husband. She puts pre-cooked hot dogs onto sticks and give them to Neal to hold. “But take your time, there’s no rush.”

 “These branches just don’t burn like they do in the Enchanted Forest.”

“You’ll make it work. I don’t think anyone’s hungry right now, anyway.”

“That’s right,” Regina smiles hollowly. “And no one will be until you get it done just right.”

Snow’s eyes narrow. “Why don’t you go help Emma with the firewood? You’re clearly interested.”

Regina shoots Snow a glare, but Snow pointedly ignores her, her attention back on the hot dogs. David doesn’t even look up, busy pinching kindling over the wisp of blue-black smoke. Distantly, she can hear the dull thwack of the axe splitting wood.

She doesn’t look at Emma again. Doesn’t look at the innocent curve of her back, the controlled swing of her arms.

 “I’ll go find Henry,” she huffs, and turns to leave abruptly.

“Bring him back in like, ten minutes,” David calls after her “I’ll have it roaring by then. Ten minutes and we will all be ready to go.”

Regina just rolls her eyes and sets out into the trees.

It doesn’t take long to find her son at all. After scanning the campground once, she smiles and strolls up to a suspiciously heavy looking hammock. With the tips of her fingernails, she lightly scratches across the top screen. The thin, sheeny fabric sparks beneath her fingertips.

“Are Moms allowed in?” she asks.

A moment passes. Then there’s the sound of a zipper, and the green nylon flaps open to reveal her sweet little boy. He’s grown so much in the last few years, she can hardly keep up with the changes -- from five-four to six foot, he’s a boy with broad shoulders and a booming laugh; he’s a boy who must duck to kiss either one of his mothers on their cheeks. But his smile is the same. His sweet closed-mouthed smile.

“Hiding from Grams, too?” he asks, and holds open the screen door for her.

“You guessed it.”

It’s a little too snug, but she makes it inside, shifting until she can lay her cheek against her son’s broad chest. She pokes her cold toes against his sockless feet, and though Henry complains, he lets the screen door fall around them again, closing them off from the world. Just them.

There is a quiet silence, interrupted only by the soft, rhythmic sound of Henry’s breathing. Leaf shadows flicker lazily across the green nylon above them.

“What are you hiding for?” she asks after a little while, just to keep herself awake.

Henry makes a soft indistinct noise in his chest.

“Nothing really,” he sighs. “It’s just for school. We have to memorize some rhyme from her kingdom,” he makes a harrumph sound, and shrugs. “You probably remember it. She wants to practice it with me.”

“Oh yes,” Regina hums. “I remember.”

Henry tilts his chin, offers her a little smile. “I’m totally getting out of it though. Emma promised she’d find a way.”

“How responsible of her,” Regina hums quietly, and gently rubs her son’s chest as the age-old tide of her feelings wells up in her ribs, floating her heart like a stubborn, bright-red buoy in the middle of the ocean. Impossible to push down. She hardly tries anymore. “But,” she taps a finger against his chest, “If your mother can’t get you out of it, let me know. I’m sure I can get the job done.”

Henry snorts and squeezes her gently around her shoulders. “You sure could,” he lays a sweet kiss on the top of her head, just as she always used to when he was a child full of silly, skittish fears, in need of constant soothing. It doesn’t seem so long ago when she could pick him up beneath the arms and carry him on her hip for the day, though more than three curses span his little life.

A moment passes, full of calm, swaying peace. Regina absently picks some of the fuzz off her son’s old sweater. The two of them watch the lazy leaf shadows flicker across their tent above them, fading slowly as the light does.

After a long while, Emma’s voice carries in from a distance.

Regina peeks her head up.

 “Regina?” Emma calls. There’s the sound of trampling wet leaves and branches breaking. “Henry? You guys near?”

“We’re here, Ma.” Henry calls.

Clumsy, eager footsteps trample their way. A sturdy, lean shadow passes briefly over their tent before the hidden zipper is discovered. It zips open to reveal Emma, her smiling face framed by triangle of black trees and stars.

“Wow,” Emma lets out a low whistle and pokes her head in for a look, her face bright with awe. “Nice place, kid. How’d you get such a fancy set up like this?”

“Pure luck,” he offers a lazy smile. “Nobody else wanted it.”

His voice is casual, and yet there is something surprisingly sly about his expression. He might have been a con man offering up his best, most practiced trick.

Emma’s cheeks flare red. “Uh. Well that’s good,” she clears her throat, and moves the subject along quickly. “Anyway, uh, we finally got the fire going. You hungry?”

“Oh my god, finally,” Henry groans, and eagerly pushes himself up towards the door. The hammock wobbles like a slab of wood in the middle of the ocean and Regina quickly grapples at the sides for fear that she may topple over with it. 

“Hey, careful,” Emma quickly steadies their son by the arm. “Don’t trample over your Mom, kid.”

“Yeah, got it,” Henry says, and then proceeds to land a clumsy knee lands on Regina’s stomach. With a yelp of laughter, she pushes her kid out of the hammock with a sturdy push.

Henry stumbles out, laughing, and is thankfully steadied by Emma.

“Alright,” Smiling, Regina shoos her son away. “You’re free now. Go, eat all you can.”

Like a dart, he shoots off into the faraway glow of their campfire.

“Leave us some,” Emma calls after him. But he has already disappeared into the picket of black trees. She huffs. “He’s going to be a little shit and eat all of it.”

“There is plenty,” Regina holds out her arms with a silent plea and successfully wins Emma’s attention back to her.

 With a little grunt, Emma hauls Regina up onto her feet, helps her wiggle her feet back into the beat-up vans she dug out of the back of Emma’s cramped car. Emma never seems to notice that Regina wears her clothes for every messy chore that pops up in their lives --from scrubbing the bathroom to painting Neal’s new room, she’s lived in the borrowed oversized shirts and run-down shoes she’s found in Emma’s closet.

 If Emma has ever minded, she’s kept it a secret from Regina (which Regina secretly likes to think is impossible).

“Hey,” Emma says, and nudges their shoulders together as they walk towards camp. The wind whistles above them, blowing through leaves, and Regina shuffles a little closer to the warm shelter of Emma’s body. “Thanks for coming out here, by the way. I know you’re not all that crazy about this kind of stuff.”

“I didn’t think any of us had any choice in the matter, actually.”

Surprisingly, Emma’s cheeks go dark.

“Uh, right. I guess not,” Emma laughs a little, and rubs the back of her neck. “Still. I’m glad you came along. It’ll be good for us.”

Regina frowns.

After a beat, she asks. “What do you mean by that? Good ‘for us’?”

“Well, you know. It’ll be good for everyone,” Emma’s voice gradually drifts off. But as they walk in silence, she seems to convince herself back onto some pre-planned talk because abruptly, she tries again. “But... you know, I think this will be good for us, too. It’ll give us some time to, you know, talk.”

“Sure. Because we never talk.”

“I know. I know we do,” Emma says, but her voice has turned surprisingly hard. Regina glances at her in surprise. In the dark, she can’t see more than the shape of her, her cheeks and the faint red shine of her puffer jacket. “But, I mean, there’s a lot of stuff we don’t talk about.”

 “Like what?”

“Well, I mean, lately, it feels like if we’re not talking about the town, or Henry or a new villain, we’re talking about --”

“What’s so wrong with that?”

“Snow, or David, or some chore we have to do --No, I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying there’s more --”

“Like what?”

“Like -- like -- ” After a helpless empty gesture, Emma’s hands drop woodenly to her side. “I don’t know. I just think there’s more, and I feel like you know what I’m talking about. We both do. I think we do, at least. We just never talk about it.”

“Well that’s news to me.”

“I doubt it.”

When her sharp look goes unacknowledged, they fall into a rare silence. Emma tends to avoid silences. For years, she has learned how to keep the air successfully occupied with talk or games or snatches of a song. Now, though, the only thing between them are their sighs clouding in the black frigid air.

 “You really can’t think of anything we need to talk about?” Emma asks quietly.

Regina’s frown creases. “I suppose so.”

In truth, nothing comes to mind. Nothing so crucial that it couldn’t be shared within their regular schedules. If it’s not about the town and it’s not about Henry, then it’s nothing they can’t simply talk out with a glass of wine on her back porch. Why would they need to be here, like this, now?

A beat passes. Then another.

Regina sighs. “Well?” she asks. “Are we going to have this talk now, or do I have to wait for Snow to announce it on our fun-family-day schedule?”

“Well, no, we can’t do it here.”

“Why?”

“Cause, you’re irritated,” Emma sighs. “If we talk now, it’s going to be rushed, and messy, and nothing will come out sounding right. I don’t want to mess us up. We shouldn’t do it now.”

“Fine,” Regina shrugs dismissively. “Whatever.”

It’s not whatever. What in the world could possibly be such an issue that the conversation could break them? In what world is their friendship so fragile? It’s a ridiculous notion. Regina counts their friendship among all the other baffling, incredible gifts they have given to each other throughout the years – she can think of nothing, nothing that would break them. It is simply unimaginable to her.

Unless.

(Unless Emma knows?)

A rush of fear surges up in Regina’s chest. Does she…does she know about Regina’s feelings? Has she somehow guessed?

Regina’s mind loops to the last few days. Had she somehow let it slip? Was it their last family dinner? She knew she had let her hands linger too long. She had made up some excuse to rub Emma’s shoulders (you look so stiff, darling, isn’t there anything I can do?) and allowed herself to get lost in their closeness, as she always does. She thought it slipped Emma’s attention (like it always seemed to) but perhaps she misjudged Emma. Maybe every little indulgence has always been on Emma’s radar. From the beginning-- every unsuspecting kiss she’d put on Emma’s cheek, every caress, every thinly veiled excuse she had to hold her, to rub her shoulders and let her hands linger has fallen into a category in Emma’s mind, a list she has quietly been collecting in her memory. Just waiting for the right time to bring it up.

Regina swallows thickly. Above them, the wind whistles into nowhere. Though they are nearly shoulder to shoulder, it feels suddenly as if a gulf has slipped between their two bodies, pushed an incredible distance between them like the distance between the stars.

After a moment, Regina slips ahead. “Come on,” she says, and doesn’t look back. “We’re going to be late.”

Walking quickly, she blindly aims herself toward the blurry spots of color through the trees, the red, blue, and orange of their family’s folding chairs.

*

She manages to avoid Emma all through dinner. She stares resolutely at the fire as her hot dog gradually blackens and splits a red fleshy line down the middle. Normally, she would resent having to eat this sort of greasy food in front of company, especially with the likes of Snow White, but tonight, it is a deliciously perfect distraction. Tonight, she makes herself a second and doesn’t even think twice about eating all her bread.

By the time s’mores are being passed out, she is gently buoyed again, almost close to forgetting her unhappiness. The fire has warmed her up a little, and with the helpful nips of whiskey that has passed secretly between the adults, she is beginning to feel pleasantly warm and secured, moored into place like a boat at a dock.

In the firelight, marshmallows turn big and brown. She discovers quickly that she doesn’t have much talent for this: her marshmallows keep turning gooey in the middle and dropping into the fire below or burning up. She doesn’t mind much, she enjoys being close to the fire and watching the wood crack and bundle into ash.

But her peace doesn’t last long. As she is given another marshmallow, she feels the familiar tingling sensation of Emma’s presence. Her magic can feel, at times, like a firecracker at the base of her spine.

Regina sighs and doesn’t look up. “What do you want?”

Emma crouches down beside her bright orange folding chair.

“Just watching your technique,” she says.

 “What?”

“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed,” Emma says, puts a hand lightly on Regina’s knee. “But you’ve now burned at least three of your marshmallows to a crisp. And now we’re getting low on our marshmallows, I’m concerned you're not actually ever going to eat one.”

Regina grunts, unmoved.

After a moment, Emma sighs and removes her hand.

“Still angry at me, huh?”

“No,” she says grouchily. She watches the fire spark and curl against the wood. “You’re the one who suddenly thinks we need to talk.”

“It’s not like that.”

“No? Then what is it like?”

Emma’s face wavers in the dim light. She stares ahead into the soft black of the night, stares at nothing. It seems for a moment that she’ll simply give in, shrug and stand up again. Or maybe she will even laugh at Regina for blowing it all out of proportion again, for misunderstanding what they need to talk about because it can’t truly be that bad; it’ll be about Henry or something else big but not at all what she feared; it’s not a talk about love, it’s not a horrifyingly gentle let-down. It can’t really be worth all this fuss.

 “Your marshmallow is on fire.” she says instead.

Regina blinks, and looks back. There, her perfectly browning marshmallow is up in flames. It flares bright red as the sugar crisps to black.

With a long weary sigh, Regina drops her stick to the pit.

“Whatever,” she says, and scrapes her marshmallow against the sides of their campfire rocks. “I’m not really in the mood for s’mores anyway.”

“Oh, come on, you can’t give up now.”

“I think I can.”

Grimacing at her, Emma leans over to pluck yet another marshmallow out of a white plastic bag.

“Don’t be such a loser,” Emma rolls her eyes and pushes the marshmallow onto the end of Regina stick. “If you really think you can’t manage, I’ll do it for you.”

“You can do whatever you want.” she grumbles.

“Great. I will,” Emma says.

Emma plucks the stick out of her hands and stands. She steps over Regina’s crossed ankles to hover close to the fire.

Regina tries to focus on something else. On the stars or on the deep black woods. But after a long while, she finds that nothing can quite keep her attention as Emma can. It can’t be helped: Emma looks so lovely like this. So close to the fire, she is outlined by its warm, red firelight. She looks like she belongs out here. Even now in a red corduroy puffer jacket and sap-stained jeans, she looks fit for the woods. She would have survived in the Enchanted Forest – she’d have found a way out of the castle and all its dresses and traps and fools. She’d have made a home in the forest.

The fire crackles. Emma hums a little tune under her breath, and carefully lowers the marshmallow to the fire. After a while, Regina thoughtlessly stands and shuffles closer to Emma’s warm body. She smells like sap and pine needles.

Though it feels as if no time has passed at all, when Emma turns her way again, she has two graham crackers in her hand. Carefully, with a surprisingly amount of caution, Emma closes the crackers over the perfectly toasted marshmallow then pulls her stick out.

“There,” Emma smiles and extends the s'more. “Here, you try it.”

After a beat, Regina reaches for it. She is more curious than she is annoyed. The chocolate is oozing over the graham crackers, and the smell of the melted sugar is overwhelming.

 When she bites into it, a pool of melted sugar drips onto her palm, hot enough to burn though she hardly notices.

Emma watches her closely. Her eyes shine brightly in the dark.

“Good?” Emma asks, hopefully.

 Regina pulls her lips in, considering. It’s a little too sugary for her, but Emma is watching her with an eagerness far too genuine to ruin.

 “It’s delicious.” she smiles, lush with pleasure. Emma’s face brightens beautifully.

There, between them, is the familiar pop of a good connection: like when a fuzzy telephone line sharpens and clears the air between two people; it might be their magic, it might be something else (something beautiful), but if Emma feels it too, she has never shown it. It’s simply a tragedy, the way these things go.

Regina sighs and nibbles the corner that is dripping.

To her surprise, Emma shuffles closer. She clears her throat.

“Mind if I take a bite?” she asks.

“Oh,” Regina blinks. She extends her hand unthinking. “Of course.”

She expects Emma to simply take it from her. She’d take a small bite, and then hand it back to her.

But instead, with a deliberateness that surprises her, Emma cups the back of Regina’s hand and leans in. She makes eye contact as she takes a bite, and it draws a sharp electric sensation up Regina’s belly as Emma’s soft hair tickles her wrist.

Hot marshmallow oozes out of between the two gram crackers and falls onto Regina’s palm.

“Oops,” Emma notices.

“It’s fine,” Regina says, a little breathlessly. She takes the s’more with her other hand, fully intending to wipe the marshmallow off with one of her spare napkins, but she stops at the sudden pressure of Emma’s thumbs.

“I got it,” Emma says and bends down to her hand.

Regina watches stunned. She doesn’t breathe, her eyelashes fluttering involuntarily when she feels the wet, warm pressure of Emma’s mouth as she closes briefly around the bends of her fingers and rubs the rest of the stickiness with her fingernail.

And then it is over. Emma leans back again, wipes the corners of her mouth as if nothing strange or out of the ordinary has happened.

“All clear.” she grins.

“Okay,” Regina manages breathlessly.

The fire crackles, and faintly, beneath everything else, there is the sound of their family still talking in the background, their conversation undisturbed and ongoing like water.

“Want another one?” Emma asks and sits in empty chair beside Regina’s. “I think we have some more marshmallows.”

“Sure,” she breathes, because it is all she can do.

As Emma settles into the blue chair, wheedling another marshmallow into their thin reedy stick, Regina sighs, utterly racked by love, electrified by it.  You will never get over her, she thinks quietly to herself. Never.

But, like always, that dammed tiny voice of hope whispers back: maybe you won’t have to.

*

When the fire dwindles past the point of warmth, David stamps out the log out. Henry stands and yawns, starting the long, shuffling process of going to bed.

Their tent really is too small. There is barely enough space to sit up straight between their two sleeping bags, but Emma hasn’t mentioned it yet and Regina is determined not to either.

Emma sighs and sits back on her heels. “Damn it.”

Regina glances up from her suitcase. “What is it?”

 “You don’t happen to have a spare toothbrush, do you?”

“Even after I reminded you?”

“Well, I got busy,” Emma leans over to investigate Regina’s suitcase. “Do you really not have an extra?”

“I have mine,” she says, but it’s no use, Emma knows where she keeps all her stuff; it takes no more than a second for her to pull out a bag of dental floss, toothpaste, and two extra toothbrushes. The pack she made just for Emma. “Oh, very well,” she sighs, and waves it away with a hand. “But at least try to remember this for the future. You won’t always have my extra stash to rely on.”

Emma snorts humorously. “Yeah right,” she says. “As if I’d go anywhere without you.”

Regina blinks. Her heart thumps pleasantly against her ribs.

She watches as Emma sticks the extra toothbrush into her mouth and stands, ducking out the tent door into the darkness. Sitting there alone in their too-small nylon tent, she feels a sense of imminence around her. A sense of something inevitable and gradual like the tectonic plates shifting beneath her. She can’t explain the feeling: it is a sort of happiness, a sort of hopelessness.

She will be in love with Emma all her life. This feeling won’t end. Not in this lifetime.

With a sigh, Regina slips back the cover of her sleeping bag. She groans and slides inside, stretches out her tired legs. Her muscles ache pleasantly from the business of their day. Her feet crack with their small bones. The gas lamps outside their tent flicker and gradually dim for sleep.

Being friends is enough, she reminds herself quietly. More than enough.

She closes her eyes.

When Emma walks back inside, she shifts one last time into a comfortable position and feigns a deep sleep she doesn’t feel.

The zipper of their tent whizzes closed. Regina listens to the clumsy sound of Emma’s footsteps as she rustles around, loud and disorganized as usual. It takes a while for Emma to settle, but when she does, and is finally still, the soft restless quiet of the woods return.

Crickets buzz quietly. Somewhere an owl hoots and flaps its big wings out from its hideout.

“Hey, are you awake?” Emma asks.

Regina stirs faintly. “Hmm?”

“You cold?”

“No,” she hums dismissively. “Not really. I’m fine.”

There’s a beat of silence.

“Well I’m cold,” Emma rustles her sleeping bag a little.  She sighs and turns on her back. “There must be a hole in my sleeping bag or something.”

“Oh,” Regina tiredly flips her brain back online. A quick internal assessment occurs as she flips through what she knows and what she doesn’t know. “Well, I have extra blanket in the car. But we’ll need to get the gas lamp started up again. Do you know where the matches are?”

“Oh, um. No. I mean, I do but...” In the dark, Regina thinks she can see Emma rub her face. “That’s okay,  I’ll be fine.”

“You won’t be able to sleep if you’re cold.”

“Yeah. I guess,” There’s a long, drawn out sigh, and then Emma rolls up onto her elbow and turns to look at her. In the dark, Regina can sort of vaguely follow the outline of Emma’s body against the greater darkness. “I mean, we could always just ...you know, cuddle or something.”

Regina freezes.

A stunned silence passes.

Regina spends all seven seconds of it staring at the dark outline of Emma’s shoulders and neck disbelievingly. Her heart races. Cuddle? Emma has never been the casually affectionate sort, not with anyone, but certainly not with her. Regina can recall exactly one full hug in all the time they’ve known each other, and it happened quickly, amongst the other welcoming hugs and kisses of other guests.

Asking to cuddle is a whole new thing -- licking the marshmallow off her hand is a whole new thing, too -- and it comes with a rattling grip of nerves. What is happening?

(Could Emma somehow know? Could she be over-compensating to cover for the awkwardness she now feels? Or …could she…could she…?)

“Emma,” she starts, at a lost.

“Forget it,” Emma sighs.

When she turns over, she must cover her head with her sleeping bag because Regina immediately loses track of her in the dark.

She sighs. “Emma.”

“It’s fine,” a muffled voice drifts from the sleeping bag. “Just forget I asked. It’s not even that cold.”

Regina hesitates. It would be best if she did just that. She can’t imagine anything good coming out of whatever Emma is trying to do.

But in the dark, she can hear Emma’s breathing – the slow, unsteady sound of someone clearly upset. Perhaps even close to tears.

An edgy spasm of tenderness closes around her heart. This is only Emma, she reminds herself. This is only her clumsy, unpredictable friend, who, for whatever reason, bounds and strives just to be close to her. Emma is her friend, that’s all. She wants what friends should want: to be close, to be affectionate.

After a long beat, Regina extends a hand toward Emma. Slowly, she strokes her fingers down Emma’s back, feels the rigid, flat muscles along her spine twitch and grow more alert.

When she is sure she has Emma’s attention, she gently tugs on her shirt.

“Look at me.” She beseeches.

Emma glances back hesitantly. Regina opens her sleeping bag, allows a chilling gust of air to scatter goosebumps up her arms.

“Come here,” Regina gently strokes her fingers down Emma’s bare arm. “I’m cold now.”

Thankfully, Emma needs no more prodding than that. Rolling over, she slips out of her sleeping bag and crawls into Regina’s. There’s the quiet shocking touch of her cold toes, but no more than a moment later she is warm again.

Slender arms slide around Regina’s waist, and hug her close to her body. A warm minty breath touches her neck, which seems intimately close – far too close to be unintentional. She must want to do something. Whisper something to her? Kiss her goodnight?

A moment later, Emma rubs her cold nose against Regina’s neck. Grumbling tiredly, Regina swats at Emma’s hip.

“Don’t,” she groans. “You should be good to me, I took pity on you.”

She must sound unconvincing because Emma merely laughs and hugs her tighter. Regina just grumbles and takes it without a fight, too warm and sleepy to be vindictive.

The night resumes. A steady hush settles between them.

And while Emma is a restless sleeper who never quite settles, and her icy nose never truly warms, Regina finds herself drifting off into a deep comfortable sleep. The sort of sleep that carries her all through the night, lulled by the steady warm breathing on her neck.

 

*

When she wakes, everything is still. The light outside the tent is grey and slanted, slowly lighting up the side of their nylon tent.

Regina is aware of Emma’s body beside her own. She can feel the innocent pressure of Emma’s arm around her waist and the warmth of her lips against the base of her neck.

With her eyes closed, Regina can almost imagine the routines they’d have together. The slow-wake up in the mornings, the way they’d quiet shift into each other’s arms, groan and sigh when the alarm clock rings. She can almost feel the kiss Emma would press against the side of her neck, the way Emma would make her stay in bed a minute more, then five, then ten, until she is nearly running late. She’d gripe about it, though she’d trade every early efficient morning she has ever had for a future like that.

Emma slides her cold feet between Regina’s ankles.

Instinctively, Regina slaps her hip. “Stop, you’re cold.”

Well, it’d go something like that.

Emma nuzzles her cheek against Regina’s. “You’re always so warm,” she murmurs contently. A hand slips sleepily beneath Regina’s sleeping sweater, draws slow circles along her flat stomach, right above her sweatpants.

It is an innocent enough touch, but after a while a heat starts to build up in her stomach, steady and gradual like the slow red-hot burn of the electric burners on her stove. It’s the sort of hungry feeling that can slip under her skin and pester her all day if she lets it, so gently, Regina disengages herself and rolls instead onto her stomach. She plops her cheek flat against her pillow and flutters a look up at Emma.

Emma gives her a sleepy crinkly-eyed smile. “G’ morning.”

Regina returns her smile. “Good morning, dear.”

A moment of peace passes. There are birds making soft morning chatter up high in the trees. Though it is getting colder, the light still carries its bright full autumn hue, not yet winter, and helps pick out the shape of their surroundings. Emma’s boots are in the corner, her navy-blue sweater and jeans bundled up with Regina’s things. When this weekend is over, Regina will likely go home with most of Emma’s things packed in her suitcase. She’ll spend Sunday sorting them out, washing, folding, separating out what’s hers and Emma’s.

Emma blinks sleepily at Regina. She smiles in the soft, happy way that makes Regina want to trace her mouth with her fingertips just to feel it against her skin. After a beat, Regina lifts a hand. Slowly, gently, she cradles Emma’s cheek. She isn’t sure what she’s doing. She doesn’t  have anything planned. But Emma doesn’t seem to mind. She closes her eyes, warmly accepts the touch point-blank, no questions asked. A muffled Mmh sound creeps up her throat, seemingly to signify her pleasure. It closes Regina’s throat with a spasm of tenderness.

How can it still feel like this sometimes? Years later, and yet sometimes, it still feels like anything could happen. Like another whole future may finally open itself up to her.

A shadow passes their tent.

There’s the familiar whiz of the zipper, their quiet moment tumbling out into the bright morning. Snow pops her head in. She smiles brightly.

“Get your swimsuits on ladies,” she exclaims. “We’re going to the beach!”

Then she’s gone, leaving their tent open. The chilly air sweeps in and Emma groans and turns her face away, burrows deeper into the sleeping bag. With a sigh, Regina returns her hand to her own side. She closes her eyes, lets the hope for that other future dim inside her once more.

*

The morning is freezing. Regina dresses for warmth and stands in brooding silence with her son, united once again by a steely cord of exasperation. Emma doesn’t seem to share their irritation, however. She whistles cheerfully to herself as she packs up their backpacks, fills their water bottles, tightens the seal of their neatly packaged sandwiches and double-checks their bottles of sun lotion. It doesn’t seem to make any difference to her that the lake they will be hiking to will be freezing and the beach a rocky patch of pebbles.

Henry gives a big sigh.

 “Are we absolutely sure I’m related to her?” he asks.

Regina laughs. “I think it’s too late to return her, dear.”

“I’m not saying we’d give her up, I just think we may need a more thorough process of determining this than the sketchy website I found as a kid. Some things just aren’t adding up.”

“You’re more like her than you think.” Regina fondly sighs.

Henry shrugs, seemingly nonchalant, but he looks at her with that old sly look of his; that way of looking from just the side of his eyes. He has a habit of doing this whenever Emma comes up in conversation: he will say these mysteriously sly things that always seem to refer to other things, which, when confronted, is shrugged off, too smart to explain them outright.  

One day, she’ll tell him that it’s alright. She knows he knows. It is no mystery to her that he has caught her out again. She barely even tried to hide this secret from him. She doesn’t even think she tried.

After a minute, Emma returns to them with the straps of three backpacks in her hands. She beams her happiness brightly upon them.

“You guys ready?”

“I guess.” Henry sighs.

“Come on kid,” Emma hands him his backpack. He grumbles as he slides it on. “It’s gonna be fun. The lake is beautiful, I hear.”

“It is,” Regina accepts her backpack reluctantly. “So beautiful, in fact, I imagine that there must be plenty of cabins close by, perhaps even right on the water.”

“I have Air B&B downloaded on my phone,” Henry produces his phone from his back pocket, not missing a beat. “I bet we could totally snag a nice cabin for the rest of the weekend,” he shares a look of direct complicity with Regina. “Don’t you think?”

“Oh yes,” she turns a dazzling smile onto Emma. “Oh, Emma. Wouldn’t it be lovely to sit there on the water and spend time as a family in a cabin? With a kitchen and solid mattresses? Wouldn’t that be nice?”

“Um,” Emma laughs uneasily and takes a step back from the united front. “Well sure it would. Of course, it would. I’ll have to uh, make sure we do that next time,” Quickly, she steps back and slides her backpack on her shoulders. “Anyway, I think we should get started. We’re uh, gonna lose the warmth of the day.”

Henry throws one last baffled look of resignation at Regina before following Emma into the thicket of trees. Shaking her head, smiling, Regina follows them both.

 

*

For a while, they are quiet. As they shuffle uphill, the chill of the morning slowly eases into a cloud of blue light. Somewhere close by, the lake rolls in and out of conversation with the beach.

Scolded by the cool air, Regina remains mum as she warms her fingers with puffs of air, and glowers at the back of Emma’s head. But for all her intensity, Emma doesn’t seem to notice. Or rather she has now become so completely unaffected by Regina’s glare that she even gives Regina a rather charming smile with every catch of her eyes.

What’s worse is that it actually works. Within only thirty minutes of their walk, Regina finds that she’s actually quite content. Completely diabolical.

Gradually, their path of knobby pine branches leads to a quiet little clearing.

In front of them, a beautiful lake extends hugely in front of them. In the slowly warming light its surface appears almost translucent, its waters deep and full of dark moss and pebbles.

 Regina, suspecting that means the lake is made mostly from melted snow and thus freezing, sets her chair firmly in a square spot of sun and sits down.

By the time Henry and Emma have set out their towels and chairs, the sun is sparkling over the blue water, filling it with a diamond-like gleam. A low, honking flight of geese fly pass by their heads.

“Oh its beautiful,” Snow exclaims from her chair. Neal dozes in her lap.

“Gorgeous.” David agrees cheerily.

Regina hums nonchalantly and takes her sunglasses out form Emma’s bag. Somewhere in her bag there are a few cooking magazines she’d like to flip through.

Henry stands uncertainly beside Emma as she tests out the water. Emma, of course, walks up to her upper thighs as easily as a heron walks into water, stepping carefully over the dark rocks and sticks that lay in the shallows.

Henry is a little clumsier. Each step of progress is marked with a loud yelp of terror and dismay.

By the time Henry is up to his thighs, Emma has already dived in and made circles around her poor boy.

“Come on, Henry! Dive in already!” Emma crows, now wading at her chest. The loose curls of her ponytail stick like wet blonde seaweed to her neck. Her arms and back shine in the sunlit water.

Regina has to drag her eyes from Emma to Henry’s frigid stance at the shallows. He has his arms crossed at the elbows, and is standing there shivering, glaring glumly at his toes.

Regina calls. “How cold is it sweetheart?”

Henry looks back with a clearly miserable smile. “It’s n-not too bad!”

Regina chuckles, and reaches for her magazine. Poor thing.

But she doesn’t get more than half a page read before she hears Emma’s voice calling for her. She glances up, catches Emma and her big grin as she bobs up and down in the big blue water.

 “You’re coming in, right?” Emma calls.

“Oh of course,” Regina pins Emma with a falsely sweet smile. “I’ll be right behind you sweetie.”

 Emma laughs, but to Regina’s horror she starts swimming to shore.

 “Come on, Regina,” she calls, and climbs up the rocky beach easily, wringing out her wet hair. “You gotta put your feet in at least!”

Regina grimaces. “I’m more than fine here.”

“Don’t you want to at least give it a try?” Emma asks. Henry’s voice echoes in the background yeah Mom, don’t you wanna give it a try? Emma lopes up to Regina’s chair with the encouragement, dripping over Regina as she smiles a dangerously coy smile.

Regina shifts back in her chair, folds her legs to hide how tightly she is gripping the chair arms.

“I’m fine here,” she says, “I’ll live vicariously through you.”

“Oh yeah?” Emma grins.

It happens before she can do anything to protect herself. Emma is too quick, hauling her up fireman style and holding her close to her freezing cold wet body.

“Emma!” Regina screams. Unable to find purchase on her sleek cool body, she grabs a fistful of Emma’s hair. “Let me go!”

She yanks with such a vicious grip of Emma’s hair that the woman actually stumbles and slips her hold. Regina slides out of Emma’s arms into the cool pebbled beach, her bare legs and shirt dampened by Emma’s body.

Fearing retribution, Emma immediately takes off back to the water. Regina doesn’t think, just follows after her down the pebbled beach, hollering with rage; she’s always been damned by her vengeance.

Emma slips back into the water effortlessly, but she is not yet safe. Regina jumps in after her, and though the water is cold enough to steal the breath out of her lungs and steal the warmth from her bones, she doesn’t let herself stop. Quickly, Regina ducks her head under the cool glass of the lake and strokes with strong arms after Emma until she can feel the rippling of Emma’s feet in water.

She wraps her hand first around Emma’s ankle, and then with a strength that almost shocks her, she wraps her arms around Emma’s waist. She holds her there with the grip of a leech.

Emma halters, and both their heads break the surface. They cough and swallow water, treading tiredly.

Seething still, Regina splashes Emma fully in the face.

“You horrible brat.” She grumbles

“Sorry,” Emma laughs and coughs as her chin slips under water. The sun is brighter here,  it sparkles on the bright blue surface and goes in all directions. Emma squints her eyes apologetically, her eyes almost impossibly blue, “I didn’t think you’d follow after me. I just meant to get you a little wet.”

“You really think I’d let you get away with it?” Regina huffs. “I’d rather be cold then do that.”

Emma laughs again, and affectionately squeezes Regina to her body. The sun glints off the water and brightens the angles of Emma’s face, and with her skin aglow above the blue light of the water, she seems younger. She has an unavoidable beauty.

Though the water truly is freezing, Regina doesn’t feel any inclination to reach the shore again. Her magazines seem suddenly dull and uninteresting to her. She’s probably read them all before anyway.

Silently, she wades beside Emma, treading water and looking up at the sky.

On her back, Regina watches a big puffy cloud travel the sky. It moves with the slow grandiosity of a great big buffalo in wide grassy plains. Emma floats beside her, seemingly just as struck.

Time passes. Eventually, she hears the water splash, Emma’s hands gliding closer as she treads to her side.  

“You wanna try to swim to the other side?” Emma asks.

Regina rolls her eyes, but she starts for the blurry line first, ducking her head smoothly beneath the cool blue water.

A while later, tired and sleepy from the sun and water, Emma and Regina climb their way back up the pebbled shore. The rest of their family barely registers their arrival – all of them absorbed in their little worlds.

Emma lays a big towel down on the beach for them to lay on. Regina stretches out into the warm sun, and closes her eyes.

She’s so warm and sleepy, she hardly registers the way in which their bodies draw together like two parts of a single organ. Emma lays her head close to her own. A cool ankle slips along her leg and there is the faint tickle of soft hair along her nose, but otherwise Regina is lost in a warm daze.

With a Emma’s body so close to her own, Regina finds herself sinking peacefully into a warm dream. She dreams of soft warm skin and the softest blonde hair.

*

When she wakes, Emma has pulled a blanket over their heads. The fabric is light and hangs loosely over their heads and arms, closing the warm sleepy space  around them.  Emma is half-dozing still, snuggled so close to Regina that their noses could almost touch. Emma’s breath tickles the side of her ear. Regina can smell the water in Emma’s hair.

 Blinking sleepily, Regina gently pulls a blonde curl from where it is splayed over her eyes.

Time passes. It’s hard to keep track of just how much.

Emma yawns. Outside, there is the sound of water rolling onto the beach. She quietly readjusts, laying her cheek softly  against Regina’s shoulder.

“Hey,” Her voice is rough with sleep. “You having fun?”

Regina blinks. Of course, even on the edge of a dream Emma would still be thinking on Regina’s happiness. Her dreams probably feature Regina daily as she never seems to actually put Regina out of her mind.

Smiling, Regina lifts a hand to gently stroke a hand down Emma’s arm.

“Yes,” she says, “I am, actually.”

A small smile lifts the corner of Emma’s mouth. She cracks a sleepy eye open.

“Didn’t I tell you?” she says, smug. “I knew you’d have fun.”

Regina rolls her eyes. “Yes,” she sighs, and drags her fingers through Emma’s tousled blond hair. “You did. I shouldn’t have doubted you.”

“I tell you that all the time. You never listen.”

“Maybe I’ve learned my lesson this time.”

“We’ll see.”

Regina strokes the length of Emma’s neck with her fingertips. “Maybe next time we’ll stick to a cabin, though,” she says, and trails her fingers gently down Emma’s collarbone, watches how the pink-colored shadows of the blanket sways on their skin. “I don’t know if I trust your father with making fire. And don’t start me on Snow’s cooking.”

“Next time,” Emma says, but her tone sounds shaky. Almost nervous. She draws in a deep breath and closes her eyes. “Anyway, maybe next time it’ll be just the three of us. Just you me and the kid.”

“That sounds lovely.”

“Yeah?” Emma looks at her with uncertainty. “You’d really want to?”

Regina glances up at Emma’s face. Such a question normally wouldn’t require any consideration from her at all but there’s something about Emma’s expression that puts a quiet nervousness into her heart.

“Of course.” She says, and soothingly strokes Emma’s chest. “I’d love that.”

There’s a silence again, but the calm is lost. To gain some of it back she gently strokes her fingers up Emma’s arm again, slowly enough that the golden hair bristles and stands up from her close attention.

“You ever wonder about the future?”

Regina glances at Emma again. She shrugs and smooths her fingers down Emma’s arm.

“Sure,” she says softly. “What college Henry might want to go into. Possible plans to remodel the house.. What kind of hellish trips your mother is going to drag us into.”

Emma turns a steady look onto her. “Anything else?”

Regina feels suddenly that she has misunderstood something. She has forgotten an important detail that in a moment she will be asked to recall with unfaltering clarity to Emma.

“I…” Regina blinks, at a loss. “I suppose I must. I’m sure I think about more.”

“I do.” Emma says softly. She gently captures Regina’s hand with her own and holds it delicately against her chest as if it were a small bird that she adored.

A soft persistent hope bubbles up in Regina’s chest. But before Regina can ask anything more of her, there is a slight tug on the blanket above them. The bright sunlight slips over their faces, and Regina groans and hides her face in the nook of Emma’s arm.

Above them, Snow’s dark silhouette stands. “We’re packing up, ladies!’ she says cheerily.

“Alright,” Emma sighs deeply, and starts to stand. “I guess I’ll start on the umbrellas.”

Regina groans and falls onto her back. She decides then that Snow deserved everything that happened to her. Every horrible little thing.

*

They’re all tired by the time they reach the camp. The sun is edging down the sky, coloring everything with an orange light.

There is an hour or two of dozing, of resting quietly in their respective spaces. Regina reads a good twenty pages into the silly romance novel she brought along with her, and Emma lays on her back with her arms crossed behind her head. Though her eyes are closed, she is not sleeping. Regina can tell. She knows Emma’s habits, how she absentmindedly scratches at her ankle or sighs a little too deeply, playing out a daydream.

When the air begins to bite with a chill, everyone climbs out of their tents. This time, Regina gets to the bear box first, deciding this time she’ll get the dinner prepared. An actual meal this time.

Snow seems relieved. It likely still feels like a natural inevitable thing for her to be taken care of, to have cooks and handymen do the real work. She opts to oblige Emma to her task of getting more firewood, which means to sit and talk as Emma does the work.  

David also seems content to sit this one out. He sits on a squat little chair beside Henry, Neal on his lap as he tosses cards onto the stump of a fat round tree.

Well, she may spoil her son, but she won’t let him grow up to be unhelpful.

“Henry,” she calls, and holds up another cutting board. “Help me cut these carrots dear.”

Henry immediately stands, and ambles over.

David, for his part, does eventually offer to stir the pot.

It’s almost beginning to feel like a real family trip. As he stirs, David tells adventurous stories that seem surprisingly more comical than his usual righteous hero-stories. Henry, having picked up a real interest in cooking, is absorbed in his work,  stopping only to ask for clarification before starting any sort of new task.

Before long, the soup is simmering above the flames, and their work is done.

Henry flops back down in his chair and gathers his cards. “Want to play a game, Mom?’ He asks, and smiles wickedly, shuffling the cards. “Or are you too scared since I beat you so bad last time?”

David guffaws.

Pulling up a chair, Regina sits and shuffles the cards herself. “Watch yourself, sweetheart,” she smiles wickedly. “I’ve only ever gone easy on you.”

A game pass, and then another. But soon after Henry slaps down his cards in defeat.

“Fine,” he sighs. “You win. I’m calling it.”

Regina chuckles, and gently strokes his hair. “Never play against your mother, sweetheart.”

“Yeah?” Henry glances up mischievously. “How about Ma?”

Regina laughs. “Not her either. I don’t even want to play her.”

Henry groans and sinks back into his chair. “Alright, Gramps. It’s just you and me, I guess.”

David laughs.

With a smile, Regina stands. She glances around, finds the camp still empty. The evening is settling in, brightening the stars against the pale blue sky.

“I’ll go check on your mother.” She says, and both Henry and David just nod, engrossed again.

It doesn’t take too long to find them. The land is mostly flat with small pockets of flowers and grass. Voices carry far behind people like the vapor trails of jet planes.

She hears Emma’s exasperated voice first:

 “Mom come on. Stop.”

Regina stops, hesitates. She thinks of going back. It would be unkind to not give Emma space, but she also knows how conversations between Emma and her mother can go. Sometimes it is best that there is a lifebuoy floating close by. She walks on, picking her way carefully through the white birch trees.

From a distance, she can hear Snow’s voice.

“I’m just saying, sweetheart. Love doesn’t come easy; you can’t just sit back and wait for it to make itself obvious.”

Regina halts abruptly. There, beyond the trees she can see both Mother and daughter. They stand in a small clearing of cut trees, Emma with a hatchet in her hand, struggling to bind together the trunks of the thin trees, and Mary Margret on a stump.

Out of sight, Regina stalls quietly behind a tree. She suspects that this talk will be an intimate one full of perilous details and that it would be horrible and mendacious of her to stay for even a second more just to eavesdrop, but her chances of gaining insight to Emma’s mind are too ephemeral and infrequent to consider turning away now.  

Quietly, Regina slips behind a tree to hide.

“I know,” Emma sighs and drops the handful of twine in frustration, leaning instead on her knees. “Trust me, I’m not just sitting back waiting. I’ve been trying. I really have.”

“But have you actually made a move?” Snow asks, and laughs at Emma’s aggravated glare.

Regina‘s stomach twists, pulverized by the idea of Emma pining over some fool. When did this happen? Could she have really missed this big of an event? A love affair? Why didn’t Emma tell her.

Her stomach binds tighter.

Unless…unless…

“I’m just saying a little romance doesn’t hurt,” Snow says with cheerful wistfulness. “You want a story you can tell your grandkids someday, you know. Have you thought about what you’re going to say?”

“Yeah,” Emma sighs, but she looks so warm, so full of a love that she has held so tightly that it has escaped even Regina’s notice.

The hint of secrecy erupts a bloom of hope in Regina’s stomach. If Emma could get away with such a huge secret, then anything was possible. Anything could happen. She could be hiding anything.

“I just don’t really know how I’m going to, you know, go about it,” Emma sighs, and throws a rock into the dimness. “I don’t think some big gesture would be appreciated, but I don’t want it to seem...”

“Uneventful.” Snow fills in.

“Yeah.”

“Have you asked Regina?”

Regina stops breathing. Her fingers dig into the rough bark. Oh god, she thinks, nearly drowning with hope. She doesn’t dare move, fearful that even the slightest breath might interfere with the universe and ruin everything.

“Ask her what?” Emma asks uneasily.

“How the special moment should go,” Snow says. Regina can hear the smile in her voice, the sly daring curve of it. “You don’t have to give up their identity, of course. You can say, ‘There’s this special somebody’, and see what she tells you.”

Blood rushes painfully to Regina’s head but she remains perfectly still beneath the tree’s heavy yellow shade. Please, she thinks desperately. Please let it be me.

 “Oh god no,” Emma’s face turns immediately into a grimace. It turns Regina’s stomach. “Are you kidding? No way. That’d be way too weird.”

 “Well, don’t you think she’s the best person to ask?”

“God, no,” Emma gapes. “Why?”

“Because she’d give you the most honest answer she could,” Snow’s smile is angelic. “She loves you far too much to lie.”

Regina’s hope dies quickly like a bird hitting glass. She steps back and stares dumbly at mother and daughter in silence. Her ears buzz with blood.

Somehow, it’s all so much worse than she feared. Emma doesn’t just know of Regina’s feelings, it has become a subject of conversation between her and her mother, one of pity, and often only when in conversation about this other love that Emma has kept a stranger to her, too guilty to expose anything to Regina now in fear of hurting her. As if she were made of delicate glass.

All this time has Emma only pitied her? It seems impossible. She wants to sit down beside Emma, alone on a couch somewhere and ask her quietly…didn’t you know me? Did we not talk through the night? You saw me at my worst. I held you in my other’s arms that one night, don’t you remember? When you couldn’t catch your breath, and you cried, and I told you everything, everything there is to know about me. And you listened.

And all this time…have you only been pitying me?

It’s too horrible. Too horrible to consider.

“Mom, drop it.”

“Aren’t you curious about what she’d have to say?”

“She’s the last person I’d ask about this,” Emma sighs rubs the back of her neck. “It’s a mean thing to do. Assuming I’m right of course.”

Oh god.

With those words, Regina finally finds the strength to leave. She turns deafly from both Emma and Snow and walks steadily all the way back to their camp.

She walks through the camp and through the laughs of her family, the lazy chatter of the evening. The autumn light sparkles along the golden yellow leaves, and leans heavily through her tent, fills the space with inescapable light, but she doesn’t stop. She’s not looking for a place to hide, she just needs a place to rest.

 Closing the bright red flap of their door behind her, she lays down onto her warm sleeping bag and closes her eyes.   

There, she waits for the tears. She waits for the despair, for the weeping, and the sucking black loss. It would be a relief, she thinks. To cry. To abandon all forms of comfort. But all she feels is the waiting.

*

Regina wakes later to a dim tent. Outside, she can hear the quiet buzz of their gas lanterns. There’s the sound of conversation. A fire crackles.

Slowly, Regina rises out of her tent. She quietly fixes her hair, runs her fingers through it and pushes it behind her ears.

Emma is the first to notice her. She glances over, her face warm in the yellow light.

“There she is,” Emma grins, and extends an extra plastic bowl. “We were just about to wake you.”

Regina accepts the bowl without a word and sits down beside her son. Henry has already eaten. His head is tilted back against the plastic chair and he has his eyes closed in a half-dream, music playing in his ears. She wishes she could join him. She wishes she had the ease and skill her son has for disengaging from family when he needs to.

Emma spoons out the food, and everyone settles close to the fire.

 It’s all pleasant enough. Snow is chattering about how much fun she’s had; how good it feels to be out here spending time with family. David has his hand propped beside her chair, his knee holding up a very sleepy Neal.

Regina just eats quietly. She watches as the fire as it sparks up into the night. She thinks of nothing else.

Time passes quickly, and before she knows it Henry is collecting the dishes and scooping the leftovers into a small Tupperware container.

A shadow crosses her.

 “You wanna go for a walk with me?” Emma asks.

Regina sighs, and looks up. Emma stands over her, painfully hopeful. She looks beautiful with her hair pulled into a slightly tousled ponytail, still wet from the lake. Her face is bright and pink in the firelight.

“I don’t know.” Regina says, as kindly as she can manage. “I’m awfully tired.”

Emma blinks, and her face turns abruptly blank. She likely hadn’t counted on a no.

“Come on, Regina,” Snow croons from across the fire. “It’s our last night. Why not go for a walk? The stars are beautiful out here.”

“Then why don’t you go?” Regina clips.

“Not tonight. I’m staying here with my hubby,” Snow says, and rubs David’s arm affectionately. Her face is sappy and bright in the light. “How about it, hunk? Wanna play me in another game of cards?”

David’s dopey grin is enough to make Regina groan and stand up again.

“Fine,” she sighs “I’ll go with you.

“Great!” Emma exclaims and jumps up, full of nervous energy. “I’ll grab us a lamp.”

“Henry?” Regina calls out for her last chance. “Would you like to go for a walk with us?”

Henry smiles at her and sinks lower in his chair. “Nah, I’m good.” He says and snuggles in deeper into his sweatshirt.

Great.

“It won’t be too long.” Emma adds, a little shyer than before.

“Fine,” Regina says, grimly. She grabs their lantern from the top of the bear box and heads off into the pine-covered trail. “Let’s get on with it, then.”

*

“It’s a beautiful night.” Emma says, again. She has now mentioned it three times in the last twenty minutes.

“Yes.” Regina says. She cannot recover her voice from the depth of numbness she has slipped into. “It sure is.”

The night air quivers around the pale light in their gas lanterns. She can see the small life that hovers around the light, little moths and bugs so small she can hardly see their wings. Bats swoop high above their heads and disappear again into the soft twilight.

Emma’s boots scuff against the floor. She sighs deeply and pushes her hands into her jacket pockets. She’s preparing herself for a speech. Regina can see all the signs of it in her pointed, concentrated face.

“You’ve had fun haven’t you?”

“Yes,” Regina says, dully. She hopes that her flat unimpassioned voice will kill any hope for conversation. “Of course. It’s been great.”

“Good.” Emma nods, and fiddles with her jacket. Her fingers move clumsily over her those big black buttons on her pockets. Regina has had to sew back so many of her buttons because of those restless, restless hands.

Will this lover of hers sew back her buttons now? Will he even know how?

For a while longer, they walk along in the dark. There is a quiet that is shared between them and the pines. Distantly, there is the sound of water moving, pulled by something beyond their control.

 “We can stop here,” Emma says, and comes to a stop near a big flat tree trunk.

When Regina sets their gas lamp on the floor, she notices a big folded blanket resting beside the trunk. There is a little silver tin resting atop, either full of treats or liquor.

“Here,” Emma says, and sits on the tree trunk. She pulls the blanket up onto her lap and pats the space beside her. “Look at the stars with me.”

Something wild and unruly bucks inside of Regina. Every feeling suddenly pulls on her like a fish on a line from beneath the roiling white nothingness inside of her.

Regina stands there for so long that Emma’s voice becomes tentative, almost fearful.

“Regina?” Emma asks. In the dim glow of the gas light, her face wavers with worry. “You don’t want to sit down?”

Regina looks at the heavy patchwork of the blanket on Emma’s lap. It looks soft and heavy, capable of keeping the two of them warm in the cool autumn air if she sits close enough to Emma. She’d have to sit right beside Emma, close enough to touch in order for the blanket to be thrown over her legs.

Which Emma must have known. She has come prepared. She’s been planning for something. For their talk.

Regina looks finally to Emma.

“Why are we here?” she asks.

Emma blinks at her. “I thought we’d look at the stars,” she gently lifts the edge of the blanket. “Don’t you want to sit?”

A little bitter smile pulls on Regina’s mouth. She doesn’t mean for it to, but the loss is finally hitting her. Here come the tears. Here is the black sucking hole. There goes an entire future.

“No,” she says, and feels the meanness in her sharpen like a kitchen knife that she’s let go dull. “I don’t think so.”

“Oh?” Emma’s voice pipes with surprise. “You sure? I promise we won’t stay out too much longer.”

“No,” she says more firmly. “I’d like to know what you’re up to.”

Emma blinks at her. “What do you mean?”

Regina waves her hand. “This. What is this?” she nudges with her toe the small tin canister beside their feet. It turns onto its side, and sloshes quietly with liquid. “What are you trying to do here with all this?”

A beat of silence passes between them.

Then Emma cracks a small smile.

“Okay, you got me,” Emma clears her throat, and rubs the back of her neck. “I guess I wanted us to have that talk.”

Deadened, Regina nods. Here it is, then. Here they go.

“Alright.” She says, and gestures for Emma to continue.

Nervousness flits across Emma’s face. “Oh right now?” she asks. “Are you sure you don’t want to sit down first? We could watch the stars for a little while.”

A spark of anger alights her stomach. How dare she? How cruel could Emma truly be? To ask her to wait for the end of all her hopes, to sit and look at the stars with someone she will never kiss, never touch, never love fully as her own.

“No,” she says, feeling her lip curl. “I would like to get this over please.”

Emma’s expression carefully recedes, draws back beneath another face, calmer than the last.

“You’re upset,” Emma observes. “What’s going on? What’s happened?”

“Nothing is going on,” Regina’s voice is so dead-calm in the air, it is almost a stranger. “I would just like you to say what you need to say so we can just go back to our camps again. I’d like to go back to my life.”

“Back to your life?”

“Yes. The one where I only have to see you Charmings on the odd day.”

Okay,” Emma says, grimly. “You’re clearly upset. I’m not going to have this conversation with you when you’re upset.”

“Then perhaps you shouldn’t say it at all.”

Emma grimaces.

“No really,” Regina says. “Keep it a secret  for all I care, I’ll keep going about my life just as I had before.”

That makes Emma wince. She draws herself up tall with her shoulders, looks Regina balefully with her beautiful blue eyes.

“You can forget our talk, then. I’ll wait when you’re obviously not pissed at me for something.”

Regina smiles horribly. She feels like screaming in the air, at Emma’s face. She feels like hiding her face in Emma’s neck and never letting go.

You’re impossible,” she snarls. “You will make me wait forever just to be done with this. Do you really think I will ever be fit to have this conversation with you? There’s nothing that is going to ever make this easier, so you might as well get it over with.”

Emma draws back, looks at her with serious alarm. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that there will never be a perfect time to tell me --” a bubble of air rises in her throat, threatens to break her voice but for fear of appearing weak she presses it down. “I will never be okay with what you have to tell me. So just get on with it already so we can finally move on.”

Emma freezes. She looks at her with the wild eyes of an animal caught in a trap. 

“There’s no way…,” Emma gives a breathless half-laugh to cover for how skittish her voice sounds. “There’s no way you know what I’m going to say.”

Regina draws in a deep breath. So its going to go like this. She’s going to have to drag everything out of Emma. Fine then. She’s pulling it all up, then. She’s dragging it up into the light.

She closes her eyes. “I overheard your conversation with Snow.

There’s a beat of silence.

Then a quiet, warbling: “What?”

When Regina opens her eyes, Emma is looking up at her with drowning eyes

“You…” Emma’s voice disappears, and she tries again. “You heard what I said to Snow?”

“Yes,” Regina says, more from exhaustion than anything. “I know all about that special someone of yours. And how I’m the absolute last person you’d want to tell, because it’d be like…what did you say?” Her lip curls. “like torture?”

“Wait, no. You couldn’t have--,” Emma’s breath leaves her like a laugh, ragged with disbelief, “You couldn’t possibly have heard – because we – I thought we -- I thought --”

“What did you really think would happen?” Regina’s mouth curls unhappily. “Did you think you could just warm me up to it? Is this why we’re out here on this ridiculous camping trip?” she laughs, realizing with a new horror that she’s right, she’s completely right. “Oh my god. Did you think you could butter me up to this? Roast marshmallows with me and cuddle with me, as if that could make this whole thing somehow less horrible?”

Emma brings herself to lean on her knees. She covers her eyes with her hands, her whole-body trembling.

The reaction catches Regina by surprise. Emma looks as if she may put her head between her legs and hyperventilate.

She’d suspected embarrassment. Possibly shame, for not returning her feelings. She’d want to apologize profusely for hurting Regina, even blameless as her fault is. There’d be an endless hug and whispered reassurances of just how much Emma loves her as a friend.

But this…this isn’t right. 

Emma is panicking. Regina can see it happening. It looks as if her whole body is vibrating, and the breaths coming out of are fast and shallow. Intermittedly between her panicked breathing, she can hear a quiet whimper of “god, oh god” into the staple of Emma’s fingers.

Regina feels, with a spasm around her heart, the first wave of doubt; a doubt that only grows larger as Emma’s breathing hiccups.

 “Emma?” Regina asks, tentatively.

Emma’s shoulders cave. She stands up quickly and turns around so that she doesn’t have to look at Regina at all. She holds her hands over her head and draws as many deep breaths as she can.

“Okay,” Emma responds at last, shakily. She drops her arms, wipes quickly at her cheeks. “Consider it over with, then. I won’t bring it up ever again.”’

Then she’s gone, walking numbly into the darkness.

*

By the time Regina finds her way back to camp, the news of their conversation has already broken across her family.

David avoids her eyes. He ducks his head immediately upon seeing her and turns instead for something to do. He finds Neal, and picks him up into his arms, carries him all the way to their tent, humming little songs, staying away from the danger.

Snow is not quite as subtle. She stands beside their little spigot of water with a soapy sponge and a baleful, hateful look on her face. She glares at Regina with an intensity Regina’s rarely seen on her boneless pretty face.

Regina pretends not to see it. She’s more concerned by the dead-quiet of their camp. Scanning over their space quickly, she sees neither Emma nor Henry. And though it’s been years, she cannot fight back the small terror that finds her– the fear that Henry may turn against her, vanish willingly from her life after any mistake of hers. That finally, her sharp tongue has lost her even the warmth of Emma’s  friendship.

The fire is dwindling, now just a glowing red log. It’s not a good reading light, but with nothing else to occupy her mind, Regina picks up her novel and drags her metal chair close to the light.

She holds her book, and stares at it blankly. Her eyes skim the pages, but all she sees are the letters. She cannot fathom the words. Cannot feel anything but the small prickling panic that occupies all the chambers of her heart.

A few minutes pass. And then, distantly, she hears the sound of a zipper.

Snapping up, she finds her son stepping out of their tent.

He finds her immediately, and her heart freezes at the solemn look in his eyes. She watches him, fearful that he will brush by her and go to his own tent without a single word to her.

But he doesn’t. He makes his way to the empty chair beside her and falls into it with a slump.

He expels a heavy breath and leans his head back. He stays there for a little while, a slumped figure staring up at the sky. Regina closes her books in her hands, unable to focus on anything else but the quiet judgment weighing in the air.

Finally, Henry peaks an eye open at her.

Regina can’t manage a smile. “How is she?”

His eyes close again. He sighs. “I won’t lie, she doesn’t look good,” he rubs his face, and sits up in his seat. “God, I just feel so guilty.”

Regina frowns. “Why would you feel guilty, sweetheart?”

“Well. I helped her organize all this,” Henry says, and waves an absentminded hand at the space around the empty campsite, the folded yellow chairs, the nylon tents. “I kind of pushed her to do it actually.”

Regna holds her book tighter. She looks up to see her son fiddling uncomfortably with a string bracelet on his wrist. In terse moments like these, she can see the resemblance, how Emma’s square jaw and bony cheeks have helped shape the worry in his face. It presses a painful love on her heart and makes reading finally impossible.

With a sigh, Regina sets her book down beside her chair.

“Why did you help her set this up?” she asks gently, not in anger, but resignation. A hurtful conversation appealed to her more than this silence, the dead-calm of their camp looming over her.  

“Well, she just kept dragging her feet,” Henry sighs, and glances up with sad eyes. “I didn’t really think there would be a reason to…not go for it, I just thought she was too scared to do it on her own, so I gave her a little push. But I never would have pushed if I knew…” he sighs and rubs his face. “God. I’m sorry, Mom. I really thought you returned her feelings.”

Regina’s heart stops.

She stares at Henry wordlessly, her voice gone in her throat.

When she can speak, she manages a thin, raspy: “What?”

Henry sighs and puts his head in his hands. “God, I feel so stupid. I should have checked with you first. I should have made sure you loved her back before Emma went through all this,” his fingers rub across his face, smooth out the worried lines along his forehead. “God we were all so sure. We didn’t even second guess ourselves for a second. Not even for a second.”

Regina can’t breathe. Her mind loops frantically back to the conversation in the woods, sweeps back over the halting stops, the warms smiles, the underlying worry, searching again for the certainty she had felt for the looming rejection. But it all seems suddenly inconclusive.

Her mind returns to the dark heartbroken look in Emma’s face. Her trembling hands, her drowning e yes.

Regina’s heart thuds in her throat. Oh god, she thinks. Did I just accidentally reject Emma?

After a little while, Henry looks at her. His eyes scan her face closely, up and down and then from eye-to-eye.

Finally, with a long-exasperated groan, he puts his face in his hands.

“Mom.” He groans into his hands. “Why are you so bad at this?”

“I-” Regina gapes. Her neck burns hot with shame. “I thought – I thought she was rejecting me.”

Henry just groans louder.

“She said –” her voice disappears halfway down her throat. “There was someone she loved, and she didn’t want to tell me.”

“Yeah, you idiot, because that person is you.”

“Hey…” Regina rasps, but her heart falls out of it. She points to the tent. “Is she…”

“Yes,” Henry groans, and pushes his Mom gently on the shoulder. “Go talk to your heartbroken wife. Goddamn it, Mom.”

*

The tent is dark when Regina steps in. It’s hard to make out anything beyond the sides of their tent, but gradually as Regina stands there, she can see the vague outline of Emma’s hair against the pillow.

Quietly, Regina zips up their tent again. She pauses at the entrance, watching Emma. Though her heart is heavy with regret, with the pain she has inflicted onto her love, a part of her is helplessly giddy. She simply can’t contain herself – she looks over Emma, and feels a trembling in her heart she cannot stop, thoughts of her future spilling over into her mind, with flashes of humor, mornings in Emma’s arms, their legs tangled together, their skin alive with lovemaking and the hot bare contact of their mouths, and the barest brush of Emma’s fingers against her own. Regina stands there, aching and overwhelmed by her luck.

But then Emma draws in a big, shaky wet breath, and Regina plummets back down to this moment. Aching for a different reason, Regina takes a tentative step closer, and then stops, waiting for a reaction.

When there is none, just quiet hushed breathing, Regina gently kneels down beside Emma’s sleeping bag. Though it is quiet, she knows Emma is not sleeping. Her breathing is too controlled for that.

She waits uncertainly for a signal of some kind. After everything, she’s still  not entirely sure how to go about this alone.

“Emma?” Regina asks at last.

“Go away.”

Regina sighs. “Emma, I’m so sorry.”

Emma sighs. “It’s fine,” her voice sounds almost inaudible through her sleeping bag, like the voice through a short-ranged walkie-talkie. “I meant what I said. We don’t have to talk about it. We don’t ever have to talk about it again.”

“I think we should,” Regina gently lays a hand against Emma’s arm, and cringes back when its shouldered off. She deflates, lays her hands on her knees. “Look, Emma. I know I have caused you a great amount of pain, and for that alone I wish I could take back what every second of that conversation. But --

“Regina, please, just go away.”

“I will,” Regina halters out. “I promise, once I’ve said everything that I need to say, if you still want me to go away, I will. But I also need you to know that I – “ she closes her eyes. “That when I said all of those things, I was thinking of something very differently from what you were thinking.”

“Yeah, obviously.” Emma says miserably, her voice like wet paper.

“No,” she sighs. “Look, when I said I overheard you and Snow talking, I may have overstated just how much I heard.”

There is a deep silence.

Emma remains focused on the wall, her body turned away from her. But Regina has her attention. She is braced tensely for her next few words.

“In truth, I may not have actually heard a good deal of it,” Regina confides weakly. “I only really heard the part where…where you said you were in love with someone, and you didn’t want to tell me about it.”

The silence is horrible.

“So, I suppose I sort of assumed…” Regina gulps. “That you knew about my feelings …and that you were going to reject me.”

For a little while, nobody speaks. It even seems that nobody breathes.

And then Emma sighs – a great big sigh -- just the same as Henry’s.

“Are you kidding me, Regina?” Emma groans into her hands, and almost violently rubs her head. “Are you telling me – that all that heartbreak was for nothing. Just because you didn’t want to hear me out? You couldn’t just wait, and listen to me for once in your goddam life?”

Regina winces. “Well –”

“Are you seriously going to justify yourself??”

“I just couldn’t bear the thought of sitting through a talk where you tell me you will only love me as a friend.”

“So you made me go through it,” Emma grumbles grouchily, her voice still wet. “Only your version was a little harsher.”

“But completely untrue,” Regina beseeches, and splays her palm against Emma’s warm cheek, desperate to convey the deep well of love that overflows her heart. She sighs shakily when it is not rebuffed. “I wish I could take back all of the words I said to you. If I could, I would go back and sit with you on that tree trunk. I would do anything to give you back that moment.”

“Yeah,” Emma sighs, and it seems for a moment that Regina’s gotten herself to the other side. But then Emma’s face hardens, and she brushes Regina’s hand away with an irritated swat of her hand. “I can’t believe I planned all this for you. You’re so – ugh. I planned this weekend for months. You have no idea. I wanted so badly to make this- this whole big romantic gesture, and it’s all gone now,” she huffs. “I even memorized this whole romantic speech for you, and you totally ruined it.”

Regina’s heart swells; it feels like a great flood in her chest,  pressing against the bones of her ribs and the back of her throat. She swallows it back, once, twice, and then again.

Then, wetly, she asks. “Can I please hear your speech?”

“No,” Emma grouches. “You can’t. You’re never going to hear it.”

Despite her dark mood, Regina can see the blazing pink on Emma’s cheeks. It smooths down the hard parts in Regina’s heart that was just beginning to prickle defensively.

“No?” Regina asks, adoringly. She trails the tip of her finger down Emma’s strong back. “Never?”

Never.”

“I see,” Regina silently collects Emma’s blonde tousled hair from their pillow and twirls it so she can neatly splay it above Emma’s head, make her neck now accessible for her fingers to splay along the thin strong muscles and the small little bones. She caresses her slowly up and down with just the tips of her fingers, listening to how Emma’s breathing starts to grow heavy and slow. “Not even if I treat you very, very nicely?” Regina teases quietly.

“N-no.”

Regina leans down to rest her lips against the shell of Emma’s ear. “No?” she purrs and smiles a little when she hears Emma’s breath hitch. “You don’t want me to spoil you?”

Emma’s body trembles beneath her. “N…o.” she shakes.

Smiling, Regina nuzzles her nose against Emma’s hair. “Oh, I don’t think you know just how good I can make you feel. When I’m being nice.”

Emma nearly whimpers. Her breath leaves in a big rush, and then her chest expands shakily.

“You can’t imagine…” Regina strokes her hand through Emma’s long hair, and nearly loses her own breath at the thought of every morning after this one. Waking up with Emma. Their whole life finally inevitably entwined. Her heart squeezes, and she grips Emma’s hair a little too tightly.

Emma gasps, and arches her back. She splays out her neck. A hot warmth flushes all over Regina’s skin, and she takes a deep breath, fighting back the desire to kiss her everywhere. She wants to melt against Emma, to flow into her body and join forever with the other half of her heart; to feel the same finality that all wandering rivers must feel when rushing back into the ocean.

Instead, she lays a soft kiss against the hot skin of Emma’s neck.

“I’ll make you feel so good,” Regina breathes, and lays her cheek against Emma’s neck. “My darling. You’ll never have reason to doubt my love ever again.”

Shakily, Emma opens up her sleeping bag. Her knees go first, and then she lays flat on her back again, her legs splaying out wide-open.

Regina slides onto her hands and knees and crawls over Emma hungrily.

“I’m not telling you my speech.” Emma breathes shakily below her. But it sounds more like a challenge than anything else, a challenge that she is very much willing to lose… perhaps even desperate to lose, if her shaking knees are any indication.

Regina smiles wickedly. “Oh, we’ll see about that.”

Emma whimpers, and squeezes her knees closer so that they cradle Regina’s hips. Regina settles her body gently against Emma’s, and lets their bodies slide and readjust naturally like water against the shore. With a warm gentle palm, she guides Emma’s trembling mouth to her own.

*

Regina wakes slowly in the morning. The morning is cool and blue, seeping in as a soft chill across her mostly naked body. There’s a crick in her neck and a dull ache in her muscles that flushes the memory of the night before into the sleepy haze of her mind.

Sleepily, Regina lifts her head and accidently bumps against the side of Emma’s jaw. She blinks and looks down at where she is sleeping – not on a sleeping bag, as she had first assumed, but Emma’s chest. She must have fallen asleep there after last night.

Blinking sleepily, she smiles and settles back against Emma. She’d love to kiss her, but she is still snoring quietly, and her face is peaceful in sleep.

So Regina settles her cheek to the solid warmth of Emma’s chest and closes her eyes. She lays there, half-asleep, warmed by the golden heat of Emma’s body against her own.

The morning gradually warms. Against Emma’s chest, she listens to the quiet ba-damb-ba-damb of Emma’s heart, and to the faint scatter of morning birds. Through the red nylon of their tent, Regina hazily watches the rise of the morning. Yellow beams streak through the trees and draw shadows along their tent.

Distantly, there’s David’s cheerful whistling. Henry’s quiet chatter.

And beyond all that, the steady pounding determination of Snow’s boots coming closer.

Regina grimaces and buries her face into Emma’s neck. No, not this morning. Absolutely not.

 With a quick flick of her wrist, Regina wraps a spell around the tent’s zipper.

“Good morning ladies!” Snow calls, sounding unbearably smug as she marches over. Her shadow darkens their door, but she goes no further than touching the zipper before she jumps back with a yelp.

“Oh!” Snow cries indignantly. “Regina! That’s not funny, at all!”

Regina smiles and nuzzles against Emma’s neck as a quiet laugh vibrates against her ear and resonates in the arms and chest surrounding her. Emma’s arms tighten around her and tugs her closer.

“Did you have to do that?” Emma murmurs with a smile, her eyes still closed.

 “Oh, absolutely,” Regina laughs and presses a soft kiss against the slope of Emma’s neck. She feels the shiver run straight down between their bodies, and so with a soft smirk she holds Emma tighter and starts to make a slow warm descent with her mouth down Emma’s neck. 

"We really should help," Emma gasps, and groans as Regina makes her way down the soft slope of Emma's breasts. She warms Emma's skin with her mouth and happily ignores the loud moody clean-up clamor going on outside, feeling suddenly certain that should either one of them ever be late to work in their future mornings together, it will absolutely be her fault. The thought fills her with a silly warmth and so as she kisses her way down Emma's body, she leaves with her soft marks little bursts of laughter.